Looking to boost the composition of your landscape paintings? Here are six composition tips to help you improve!
Don’t Rely on Photography
Snapping a photo of a landscape to take home and paint later may seem like a great idea. But it can be both helpful and problematic. The photo you capture may seem to have everything visible, but cameras have limits. For example, camera lenses don’t describe a true sense of optical depth. It can also distort the sizes of elements and the character of the actual clarity of foreground, middle ground, and background.
If you’d like to paint from photos, I recommend you analyze the photograph well to pick up on distortions, lack of focus, and perspective problems. Once you recognize these issues, you can try to correct them in your landscape paintings.
Start with a Small Sketch
A great way to start your landscape painting is to first complete a small sketch. If you can do a preliminary, small-scale painted sketch of the view, you can work out the best qualities as well as any potential problems. This can help you figure out geometry shape, value, perspective, color arrangement, and brushwork. This small sketch will help be a bridge for the composition to move from thumbnail idea to full-scale painting more easily.
If you’re painting alla prima, you may want to skip this step. But if you’re newer to landscape painting, the sketch may prove to be very helpful and build confidence.
Consider all Possibilities
Consider all the compositional possibilities of your image when choosing a scene to paint. This may be overwhelming to some, so a viewfinder can be useful to get a sense of the potential image and help you to frame the boundaries of the painting.
When you think about all possibilities, you also want to decide if you’re going to be faithful to the scene as it is. When painting, you can move elements around for the good of the composition. This can mean changing the position of trees, the distance between objects, or the size of objects. You can also remove certain objects, like a telephone pole, if it’s distracting from your landscape painting.
Simplify the Landscape
Speaking of adjusting the scene, many landscapes are busy. Look out at a scene, you might see hundreds of trees or dozens of mountaintops. The prairie you want to use for your landscape paintings might be covered in millions of blades of grass. Cityscapes could have hundreds of skyscrapers and people.
So, try and simplify your landscape. Don’t get caught up in the tiny details, and don’t stress about replicating every single detail from the landscape. You can give the illusion of numerous items by creating a more abstract background and being a little more detailed in the foreground.
Be Mindful of the Depth
This is one of the most important composition tips. Depth is what helps to make your landscape painting come to life and let the viewers know the hills and mountains you’ve painted go on for miles and miles. Aerial perspective is commonly used in landscapes and is a sound guideline for gauging and constructing depth in your compositions. Aerial perspective means elements you want to come forward in your painting are sharper, clearer, darker, and larger while elements you want to recede are fuzzier, vaguer, lighter, and smaller. Being mindful and controlling the depth in your landscape paintings is the key to making successful landscape compositions.
Plan Marks and Texture
Marks and texture can add quite a bit to your landscape paintings. They not only create texture variation but can aid in moving the eye through the composition.
Think about if you want to utilize this in your painting. If you do, then plan the qualities of brushwork and layering of paint from the first layer to the last touch. The planning will help you reach your desired effect more easily. Keep in mind that bolder, thicker, and sharper brushstrokes will come forward, and softer, smaller, more subtle brushstrokes will recede.
I love sharing my passion for painting, so I hope these six composition tips help you to improve your landscape paintings! Painting a landscape isn’t always easy, but the reward of seeing your beautiful finished piece staring back at you when you’re done is priceless!
If you’d like to own a landscape painting without having to paint one yourself, check out and purchase one of my paintings! And of course, if you have a question about one of my pieces, please, feel free to contact me. Thank you for supporting your local Colorado artists!